It’s reality check time


I was reading an article the other day written by someone who deluded himself into believing that by writing and self-publishing a book, he would instantly be rewarded with fame and fortune. I’m still trying to make up my mind whether or not he is simply naïve, or a complete fool. Click on the above link to make up your own minds.

Writing is a serious business. The publishing world has surrounded itself with layer upon layer of obstacles designed to separate the wheat from the chaff, making it nigh on impossible for the first time writer to break in.

Getting your skills to the point where people other than your immediate circle of family and friends will appreciate your efforts takes time. It also takes a long time to build up a readership (in my case it has taken eighteen long years of hard graft and heartache).

As a newcomer, the chances of your first book becoming a best seller are slim to nothing. If you think that dozens of literary agents will be fighting among themselves to represent you, you are deluding yourself. First and foremost they are in the business of making money. Whether or not your literary efforts are likely to make you a candidate for the next Pulitzer Prize comes a distant second in their world. The same applies when it comes to the vast majority of publishers, both large and small.

If you do manage to get a literary agent to represent you, there is no guarantee that they will be able to generate interest among the major players in traditional publishing. Face it people, their primary objective is also to make money. For both a literary agent and an establishment publishing house to take a financial gamble on you making them millions in profit, is extremely unlikely to occur.

Most traditional publishers work to a strict budget. They work on a fixed number of new books in any given year. If yours is among them, don’t for one moment think that they will necessarily want to publish your next book during the following year. In most cases they won’t. Why – because as an unknown your first effort simply did not sell enough copies. It doesn’t matter a damn that at the time, your editor waxed lyrical about it to keep you sweet, or that it might have been critically acclaimed. My only book published in this way, sold barely two hundred copies because I was an unknown.

If the discerning reading public doesn’t warm to your book, as far as your agent and publisher are concerned you are now a financial liability. In which case you will find yourself remaindered just like the unsold copies of what you saw as your magnum opus.

All of the above is why so many first timers choose to self-publish these days. Even though you have fewer obstacles to navigate your way through, if the end result of those long hours spent writing does not generate enthusiasm among the billions of potential readers throughout the world, then like the author of the above article, you are in for a reality check.

Whether your first book is self or traditionally published, don’t expect it to be an overnight success. If it does peak the curiosity of the reader, by both favourable and negative reviews, chances are that they might want to purchase a copy to see what all the fuss is about. If they like your writing style, they may even purchase any subsequent books written by you. Its entirely in the lap of the gods as to whether or not the sales of your first book will exceed one or two hundred copies.

I my own case, I turned to self-publishing for one reason only – to establish a regular readership. I learned a valuable lesson from my brief encounter with the world of traditional publishing, albeit with a small press. Simply put, I was not prepared to wait for a year or two before my then publisher deigned to include my next effort in their publishing schedule.

By deliberately choosing to self-publish, I know I made the right decision. My sales figures back me up. The other decision I made was to deliberately publish my works exclusively as eBooks rather than the traditional printed variety, simply because so many people nowadays fill in the time it takes to commute to and from the workplace by reading via their tablet, smartphone or laptop.

I am now in the fortunate position where my books sell in their thousands. The reality for most self-published writers is that they will not be so lucky. It doesn’t mean that I am raking in a fortune in royalties, or that I am famous by any stretch of the imagination. What it does mean however, is that I am building a faithful readership, something which at my age (sixty-five), had I chosen to stay with traditional publishing, would have been denied to me for several decades.

Like the author of the article linked above, if you look upon the writing game as a ticket to fame and fortune, you are in for a rude awakening. But, if you write because you love it, content in the knowledge that people enjoy reading the efforts of all your hard work, then the crowded world of words has a place reserved for you.